Whether you grew up in Sunday School or not, chances are you’re at least somewhat familiar with the epic story of Samson, “the strongest man who ever lived.” But how recently have you actually taken the time to read the account of Samson’s life in Judges 13-16? Samson, while chosen by God to be a judge of Israel, had some serious flaws. With today’s release of the major motion picture “Samson,” we wanted to take some time and refresh you on some of the aspects of Sampson’s story your Sunday school teacher likely left out.
1. Samson's father had major doubt issues
In Judges 13, we read of the angel of the Lord who came and visited Samson’s mother, informing her that she would bear a son, despite her barren womb. The angel went on to give her specific instructions for how to raise her son as a Nazirite. Her husband had such a hard time hearing this news from her that he prayed to God and asked Him to send the angel again so he could hear these instructions for himself.
God actually did send the angel again and after the angel refused to eat any food they offered, Samson’s parents offered a burnt offering to the Lord—as an alternative to preparing a meal for the angel. After the angel left them by ascending into heaven in the rising flames, Samson’s father thought they had seen God and were therefore “doomed to die.” His wife had to talk some sense back into him, saying “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.”
2. God actually condoned Samson's first marriage to a Philistine woman
In Judges 14, Samson declares his desire to take a young Philistine girl as his wife. Despite his parents urging him to reconsider and marry within his own people, he insisted on marrying this Philistine. The Bible actually goes on to say that “His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.”
3. Samson took riddles way too seriously
We’ve all told riddles to people who didn’t understand them. Normally, when asked to explain the riddle, most people will eventually just do it. No big deal, right? Well, not Samson. He took his riddles very seriously. Take this example. One day, on his way to visit the girl he was courting, he was approached by a roaring lion. God allowed him to easily kill this lion, which he tossed aside and went on his merry way. However, when he was making this journey again, this time on his way to marry the Philistine girl, he noticed the dead lion’s carcass filled with beehives and honey. A normal person would have kept walking at this point, but not Samson. He took a bunch of honey, ate some, and gave some to his parents.
At the customary feast with the Philistines later that evening, he proposed a riddle-based bet with them: “If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. If you can’t tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.”
They agreed and Samson went on: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” His new bride’s friends, after being unsuccessful in deciphering Samson’s riddle for several days, approached her and asked her to get the answer from Samson. After begging him for seven days (yes, six days, 23 hours, and 59 minutes longer than most of us would withhold the answer to a riddle), he finally told her, and she in turn, told her Philistine friends. When Samson learned this, he went and “struck down” (which we can assume means killed) 30 Philistines, stripped them, and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. So he didn’t even strike down the people who cheated to learn the answer to his riddle, he struck down 30 OTHER Philistines and actually honored the bet. Even more interesting to consider, the Bible says that “the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him” as he went down to strike down these people. It would appear that even though Samson was killing them for seemingly trivial reasons, God gave him the strength to do it.
4. Samson took wedding drama to a whole new level
To make the wedding riddle story even crazier, after all of this was said and done, the Bible says “Samson’s wife was given [by her father] to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast.” When Samson went to visit his wife (apparently, he remained in Israel and she remained with the Philistine’s even after their wedding), her father informed him that he had given her in marriage to somebody else because he assumed Samson hated her by now (see Judges 15:2).
Her father then tries to convince Samson to take her younger sister instead. He even throws Samson’s original wife under the bus by saying her sister is more attractive anyway. “Isn’t her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.”
Samson gets so mad at this point that he goes out and catches 300 (yes, 300) foxes and ties their tails together in pairs, secures burning torches to their tails, and sets them free to run for their lives in the Philistine’s fields. They took down everything in their path, including vineyards and olive groves. It’s interesting to note that, unlike in earlier moments of extreme behavior in Samson’s life, nowhere in scripture does it say that the Spirit of God came upon Samson during this time. He did this completely out of his own power and free will.
Not to be outdone, when the Philistines learned that Samson was responsible for their burnt fields, they went and burned his father-in-law and his wife to death.
It’s no surprise that the same person who killed 30 people for cheating to answer a riddle wouldn’t take very well to his wife being killed. Samson vowed at this point, “Since you’ve acted like this, I swear I won’t stop until I get my revenge.”
Samson then slaughtered many of them. Remember, all this stemmed from wedding drama. Basically, you won’t like Samson when he’s angry.
5. Judah betrayed Samson
Everybody remembers Delilah and how she betrayed Samson, but did you realize that it was Samson’s own people who first betrayed him? And after only a brief conversation they had with the Philistines at that.
After the wedding drama, you could say that tensions were pretty high between Judah and Philistia. Think the Montagues and Capulets times a thousand. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that neither group of people were too supportive of Samson at this point in time.
After the Philistines confronted the armies of Judah because of Samson (Judges 15:9), the people of Judah decided to give in to their demands and hand over Samson. Three thousand of the men from Judah went and politely asked Samson if they could capture him and turn him over to the Philistines. Instead of resisting the idea, Samson was ok with it under one condition—that they wouldn’t kill him themselves. After they agreed, he let them tie him up and they delivered him to the Philistines.
So essentially, Samson was the original “Trojan Horse” and the men inside it – all as one person. He ripped through the ropes, grabbed the jaw bone of a donkey, and slaughtered a thousand Philistines. One. Thousand. Philistines.
Keep in mind, the men of Judah who delivered Samson to the Philistines weren’t in on this. They thought they were really turning him over to his execution. They probably didn’t expect him to be back home in time for dinner.
6. Between his tragic marriage and his time with Delilah, Samson went to a prostitute
We all remember how at one point in Samson’s story, he tore the doors off the gate of the city of Gaza, but did you know why he was in Gaza in the first place? According to Judges 16:1, the Bible just says that he went there, but whatever his initial intentions were, he ended up seeing a prostitute instead. You don’t really hear about that part of the story, but usually skip right to the next part of his story. After the Gazites realized he was there, they planned to kill him at daybreak. Instead, Samson “took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron” (see Judges 16).
7. Samson's patience with riddles didn't carry over to more important secrets
The Bible says that when Samson started seeing a Philistine woman named Delilah, the Philistines convinced her to try to get him to reveal the secret to his incredible strength. We all know this part of the story. He tells her fake reasons over and over, and over and over she tells the Philistines, who proceed to try to overtake him each time using their newly discovered information.
According to Judges 16:16, Delilah prodded Samson with nagging “day after day until he was sick to death of it.” The Bible doesn’t say how long “day after day” was, but if you remember from earlier in the story, Samson was able to withhold the answer to a silly riddle for an entire week. While we don’t know exactly how long he was able to keep this secret from Delilah, “day after day” seems a little short for a life and death matter such as his strength. “Month after month” or even “year after year” might have been more understandable.
Sadly, he eventually gave in, Delilah had his head shaved, and the Philistines captured him. In the end, God gives him his strength back one last time, allowing Samson to topple a large Philistine temple onto three thousand Philistines, a feat that took the life of Samson himself. But as the Bible says, “Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.”